Ocado has overtaken Tesco to become the UK’s most valuable retailer after its stock market value soared to £21.66bn.
Tesco is worth £21.06bn despite controlling nearly 27% of the UK grocery market. By comparison Ocado, which is already worth more than double the combined value of Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, sells just 1.7% of the UK’s groceries.
Former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy once famously described Ocado as a “charity” due to its track record of losses during the noughties.
Ocado has eclipsed Tesco just as the supermarket’s new chief executive, Ken Murphy, prepares to take charge on Thursday. He replaces Dave Lewis who has been running the UK’s biggest retailer since 2014.
Murphy faces a baptism of fire as Tesco grapples with recession, running supermarkets during a pandemic and a potential no-deal Brexit. He also needs to get the share price, which has gone sideways under Lewis, moving.
The Tesco board is painfully aware of the march of the Ocado share price. In the summer the company suffered one of the biggest-ever shareholder revolts over executive pay. Shareholders objected to a late change to part of an executive pay plan, which handed an additional £1.6m to Lewis and £900,000 to finance director Alan Stewart.
The change involved removing online grocer Ocado from a comparator group against which Tesco’s share performance was measured. With Ocado included the two men would not have qualified for the extra payout.
Investors have fallen in love with Ocado on the back of the success of its tech business Ocado Solutions, which sells its grocery-picking expertise to foreign supermarkets. The coronavirus pandemic has also triggered a boom in online shopping. At the height of the pandemic online food sales nearly doubled but, despite the recent slowdown, they now account for 12.5% of total grocery sales versus about 7% pre-crisis.